Tag Archives: books

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

Redd Becker Book Review

Falling into Place byWhen a high school girl runs her car off the road in an act of suicide, her family and friend’s lives change forever. The primary focus of Falling into Place is the reaction of family and friends as they grapple with the unexpected death.

With the pressures teens are subjected to in our society, it is no wonder suicide concerns us. Although a painful topic, we need to be aware of it. Zhang brings the subject into full fruition from the perspective of those close to the teen.

Characters of Falling into Place

Zhang develops believable characters with reactions we can understand, if not always agree with.

Scenes jump between her brother, friends, mom and dad. Character changes are noted at the beginning of each chapter to help the reader orient. Each chapter is written in third-person-close from a different person’s perspective, but there is also a first person narrator who occasionally appears. This perspective is not identified until the end. Scenes takes place at different times and places. Present is mixed with flashbacks. 

The story was well written and engaging but too depressing for me. It hurt in its reality.

For another reviewers perspective check out Stacked Books review.

Falling into Place by Amy ZhangFalling into Place by Amy Zhang
Published by Greenwillow Books on September 9th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 296

On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road.
Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? Amy Zhang’s haunting and universal story will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher.


Grit by Angela Duckworth

Redd Becker Book Review

Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success byWe see success all around us. What makes those people succeed? Angela Duckworth maintains that how much ‘Grit’ someone exhibits is key.

Duckworth takes a look at success. Her book is a wonderful summary of the study of people’s grit; as in their passion and perseverance over the long-haul toward a goal. For an academic’s summary, Grit is informative and, most important, it’s readable. Duckworth includes fascinating examples of famous people, as well as people like ourselves who exhibit perseverance in the face of challenge. She interviewed many psychologists and includes interesting aspects of studies conducted over several decades.

Grit is Attainable

I found myself taking notes as Duckworth covered what grit is, who has it, how it relates to your happiness and how we can build our own or our children’s perseverance and drive, if we desire. She believes grit can be strengthened at any time in our life. What a relief.

Before finishing, I bought Duckworth’s previous book, Quiet. The ultimate compliment to an author, but I admit it was recommended by several people over the years and Quiet is a many-week New York Times Best Seller.

I did not agree with everything Duckworth presented, due to my own view of happiness, but that didn’t diminish what I learned and my enjoyment of the book. An excellent read.

For those interested in writing: Duckworth presents insights to one angle of humans who succeed and the skills she writes about can be of help in your writing career.

Check out Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on TED or at Angela Duckworth’s website.

Grit by Angela DuckworthGrit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success by Angela Duckworth
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Non-fiction
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In this must-read book for anyone striving to succeed, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows parents, educators, students, and business people—both seasoned and new—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a focused persistence called “grit.”
Why do some people succeed and others fail? Sharing new insights from her landmark research on grit, MacArthur “genius” Angela Duckworth explains why talent is hardly a guarantor of success. Rather, other factors can be even more crucial such as identifying our passions and following through on our commitments.
Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently bemoaned her lack of smarts, Duckworth describes her winding path through teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a special blend of passion and long-term perseverance. As a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth created her own “character lab” and set out to test her theory.
Here, she takes readers into the field to visit teachers working in some of the toughest schools, cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She also mines fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance. Finally, she shares what she’s learned from interviewing dozens of high achievers—from JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon to the cartoon editor of The New Yorker to Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll.
Winningly personal, insightful, and even life-changing, Grit is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference.

the Calling by Rachelle Dekker

Redd Becker Book Review

The Calling (Seer #2) byI picked up The Calling because of the cover. I wanted a male hero who struggles with the care of his family. This is that, although Remko also struggles with his relationship to his inner-beliefs.

A band of rebells, the Seers, hide outside their city and conduct gorilla warfare in an attempt to gain personal freedom for their people. The Seer’s enigmatic leader, Aaron, is seldom with the group, but he provides them each with the spiritual strength and guidance they need.

A change in president ramps up the urgency of their rebellion. When scientists experiment using drugs to erase  citizen’s memories and their desire for  freedom the Seers respond.

Remko acts as the Seer’s defense specialist, organizing and carrying out raids into the city to bring others out or to save those arrested by  authority. His conviction to Aaron is in question, but his love for his wife and child commit him to the cause. As the book progresses it is Remko’s internal battle to understand his spirit that drives the story and puts everything in the balance.

The Christian elements of The Calling

The Calling is a Christian action adventure in a dystopian world. There are many elements linking Christianity in The Calling. Their leader Aaron can appear anywhere and any time to provide his disciples emotional support. Love of family is only trumped by love of their spiritual leader. The title itself brings Christianity to mind. But the Christian elements don’t need to detract from the story. Most cultures have similar spiritual and ethical struggles.

For another perspective check out The Artist Librarian‘s review.

the Calling by Rachelle DekkerThe Calling (Seer #2) by Rachelle Dekker
Series: Seer #2
Published by Tyndale House Publishers on March 8th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Religious, Dystopian
Pages: 441
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Remko Brant had never been so sure of anything as escaping the Authority City with Carrington Hale. But bravado comes easy when you have nothing to lose. Now a husband, father, and the tactical leader of the Seers, Remko has never had so much at risk.
As he and his team execute increasingly dangerous rescue missions inside the city, they face growing peril from a new enemy. Recently appointed Authority President Damien Gold claims to be guiding a city shaken by rebellion into a peaceful, harmonious future. But appearances can be deceiving. In order to achieve his dangerous ambitions, Gold knows he must do more than catch the rebels--he must destroy the hope their message represents . . . from the inside out.
With dissension in his own camp--and the CityWatch soldiers closing in--Remko feels control slipping through his fingers. To protect those he loves, he must conquer his fears and defeat Gold . . . before one of them becomes his undoing.

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks; a saga where color is magic

Redd Becker Book Review

Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

Brent Weeks uses color as the source of magic in The Broken Eye. Humanoids with special powers to manipulate color, called Chromeria, dominate in their world. Chromeria can manipulate color to form things, change the weather and even render themselves invisible. Guilds formed by those who wield the power of their color work together or against other color guilds The most powerful Chromeria of them all utilizes the full spectrum of colors and is designated the Prism, an honorary figure in their society and highest ruler. Plots run through family conflicts, guilds, renegades to the rulers and court intrigues.

Weeks deftly captures reader’s empathy for his characters, than turns the character around to reveal their more wicked motives. Just as likely, Weeks justifies his villain’s motives. There are plenty of characters for readers to project themselves into, bond with, and analyze, as well as male and females characters who are fully empowered in their rolls.

Brent Weeks writes a saga

The Broken Eye is a long novel. If you are daunted at almost eight hundred pages, this plot-driven story makes it a worthwhile adventure. Chapters jump between characters and locations. At first it’s hard to keep the threads and characters straight, but Weeks never drops the intensity or conflict. Scenes are enticing. They each drive the overall storyline, as well as subplots, forward. There is lots of dialogue and action with just enough description to bring the world and backstory to life. 

It’s difficult to maintain momentum in a long book, especially in the mid sections, but, with the mix of characters, locations and complexity of plot, Weeks maintained my interest.

The book is completed with maps, character list and an extensive glossary.

My Rating five-stars

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks; a saga where color is magicThe Broken Eye (Lightbringer, #3) by Brent Weeks
Series: Lightbringer #3
Published by Orbit on August 26th 2014
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 757

As the old gods awaken, the Chromeria is in a race to find its lost Prism, the only man who may be able to stop catastrophe, Gavin Guile. But Gavin's enslaved on a galley, and when he finally escapes, he finds himself in less than friendly hands. Without the ability to draft which has defined him . . .
Meanwhile, the Color Prince's army continues its inexorable advance, having swallowed two of the seven satrapies, they now invade the Blood Forest. Andross Guile, thinking his son Gavin lost, tasks his two grandsons with stopping the advance. Kip and his psychopathic half-brother Zymun will compete for the ultimate prize: who will become the next Prism.


Defender by Graham McNamee; trust is the root of family

 Redd Becker Book Review

Defender by Graham McNameeDefender is a quick read at 226 pages. Teens can relate to the six-foot-six female basketball player from the ghetto who tells the story in first person.While Graham McNamee captures family dynamics and boyfriend issues through his Tiny’s eye, great dialogue and the voice of the narrator carry the book.

The plot was predictable in the beginning. I could almost write the script, but the voice of the narrator kept me reading.  With few words used, scene locations come alive. It’s an enviable writing style teens should appreciate. There were, however, few twists, but most of the ending was satisfying.

Tiny finds a mummified body in the basement of the tenement where her family lives and her father works. When her dad hides the body and tries to convince Tiny she hallucinated it, Tiny and her boyfriend Stick want to find out more, but who can they trust. Suspecting her dad of the murder almost destroys Tiny’s relationship with him.

For those who enjoy writing: This is a good example of teen dialogue acceptable to wide audiences.

My Rating three-stars


Defender by Graham McNamee; trust is the root of familyDefender by Graham McNamee
Published by Wendy Lamb Books on April 12th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 227
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They call her Tiny, but Tyne Greer is six foot six, a high school basketball star who is hoping the game will be her ticket out of the slum. She lives in a run-down building called The Zoo, where her father is the superintendent. One day she discovers a crack in the wall of an abandoned basement room. And sealed up in the wall is a girl’s body. Horrified, she runs to get her dad. But after he goes to take a look, he comes back and tells Tyne that nothing’s there. No girl. No body. He tells her she must be seeing things in the dark.
Tyne is sure it was real, though, and when she finds evidence that the body was moved from the hole in the wall, she knows the only one who could have done it is her father. But why? What is he hiding?
Tyne’s search for answers uncovers a conspiracy of secrets and lies in her family. The closer she gets to the truth, the more dangerous it becomes for her. Because some will do anything to bury the past…and keep her silent.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Redd Becker Book Review

The Japanese Lover by Isabel AllendeIsabel Allende is a proven master of story telling.  Little dialogue or ‘traditional’ scene structure encumber Allende as she weaves her story with uncanny knowledge of human secrets and motivations. Historical events turned inside out provide unexpected characters and relationships.

Isabel Allende creates diversions that matter

Allende goes on tangents within scenes to create new characters before returning to the plot, where she ties it all together. This adds multi-dimensions the reader doesn’t expect. It can be difficult to maintain the intensity and momentum during the middle sections, but Allende does it with finesse. She delivers a heart wrenching climax by the end. Thank you Allende for documenting the most human sides of history with compassion.

A young woman, Alma, works in an old folks home where she befriends a wealthy resident. When the old woman disappears for short vacations Alma decides to discover the truth of the woman’s past. Readers moved forward and backward in time piecing together the effects of World War II on each of the character’s lives: the main character Alma’s, the grandmother, her grandson and the Japanese lover.

For those interested in writing:    Writers today are told to “Show, don’t tell”, but  Allende stands out as a wonderful example of someone who “tells” her story effectively. The lack of action scenes doesn’t draw away from the novel. She has a style that lets you walk along with her.

My Rating five-stars

The Japanese Lover by Isabel AllendeThe Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende, Nick Caistor, Amanda Hopkinson
Published by Atria Books on November 3rd 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 322
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In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco's parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family's Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family, like thousands of other Japanese Americans are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.
Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco's charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin by Mary Higgins Clark

by Mary Higgins ClarkMary Higgins Clark is a well known mystery writer with over thirty-three books published. I’ve Got You Under My Skin is a straight forward mystery with plenty of clues to lead the reader astray, but the end is no surprise.

Two murder plots weave their way around the life of a documentary director, Laurie Moran. One from within the reality TV show she is filming to investigate an unsolved murder case.  The other of the unsolved murder of her husband some years previous.

Mary Higgins Clark jumps between POV

Instead of weaving character development into integrated action scenes, Clark flushes out character motives and temperaments in alternating chapters that she focuses on each character. This technique maintains character individuality, but lacks subtlety. Regardless, the mystery provided a day’s distraction. Good for a flight.

My Rating three-stars

I’ve Got You Under My Skin by Mary Higgins ClarkI've Got You Under My Skin by Mary Higgins Clark
Series: Under Suspicion #1
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 1st 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 303
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When Laurie Moran's husband was brutally murdered, only three-year-old Timmy saw the face of his father's killer. Five years later his piercing blue eyes still haunt Timmy's dreams. Laurie is haunted by more: the killer's threat to her son as he fled the scene: Tell your mother she's next, then it's your turn . . .
Now Laurie is dealing with murder again, this time as the producer of a true-crime, cold-case television show. The series will launch with the twenty-year-old unsolved murder of Betsy Powell. Betsy, a socialite, was found suffocated in her bed after a gala celebrating the graduation of her daughter and three friends. The sensational murder was news nationwide. Reopening the case in its lavish setting and with the cooperation of the surviving guests that night, Laurie is sure to have a hit on her hands. But when the estranged friends begin filming, it becomes clear each is hiding secrets . . . small and large.
And a pair of blue eyes is watching events unfold, too . . .